Williams asserted in a statement he published today on Fox News website that he was not a bigot and denied that his statement is bigoted.
Listening to his overall exchange with Bill O’Reilly one can agree with his assertion but not his denial. Williams disagreed at least on one occasion with O’Reilly’s assertion that not only the 9/11 terrorists but all Muslims should be held accountable for 9/11 attacks. The statement he made in reference to his fear of flying with Muslims is profoundly bigoted. In the end, his remarks only served to reinforce anti-Muslim bigotry.
“Look, Bill, I’m not a bigot,” Williams said. “You know the kind of books I’ve written about the civil rights movement in this country. But when I get on the plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous.”
Bigotry refers to prejudicial statements and acts involving an entire religious or ideological group because of their religious association. The above statement assigns guilt by association to the entire Muslim community for the sins of few misguided co-religionists, and can only serve to foster hate and prejudice against Muslims. Evidently, Williams must have felt deep in his heart that he was about to denigrate an entire religious community and decided to open his remarks with “I’m not a bigot” disclaimer.
The problematic nature of Williams exchange with O’Reilly must be seen in the context in which he made his statement and the role he allowed himself to play on Fox News. O’Reilly was searching for people to validate his bigoted attack against all Muslims a week after his appearance on “The View” TV show. He was compelled to apologize after he made derogatory remarks against Muslims, forcing two of the show anchors to leave the stage. Without any reservation, O’Reilly told his interlocutors on “The Views” that "Muslims killed us on 9/11."
Williams shamelessly agreed with O’Reilly bigoted stance against Muslims, and practically supported him in holding the entire Muslim community responsible for the murderous act of few Muslims. "Well, actually, I hate to say this to you because I don't want to get your ego going,” Williams lamented. “But I think you're right. I think, look, political correctness can lead to some kind of paralysis where you don't address reality."
Several media outlets and bloggers, including an editorial by the Washington Post, defended Williams’s ranting as a question of free speech and attacked NPR’s decision. NPR acted within its reasonable right to expect a senior analyst to respect its editorial position particularly when Williams’ professional affiliation was invoked by Bill O’Reilly as he called on him to defend the latter’s unmistaken bigotry against Muslims.
The same defenders of free speech did not utter a single word when Helen Thomas was fired for making critical remarks of the Jewish settlers’ misappropriation of Palestinian lands in the West Bank. The expression of bigotry is an irresponsible use of freedom of expression and serves no other purpose than promoting hatred and undermining civil peace.
Every American knows that such a blatant expression of bigotry will not be tolerated in this society if it was directed against Jews or Blacks. Muslims deserve the same treatment and should expect no lesser reaction when bigotry is directed against them.